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FIFA World Cup 2022

By The Numbers: The Stats Behind Morocco’s Solid Defence

Laduma Analytics looks at the numbers after Morocco became the fourth African country to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

Numbers Morocco Defence

Morocco became the fourth African country to reach the World Cup quarter-finals and the first to do so since Ghana in 2010.  They did this after a pulsating 2 hours of action against neighbours Spain, to set up a quarter-final against another nearby country – Portugal. While the other seven Round of 16 clashes have gone the way many expected, this was the one fixture in which the least favoured side overcame the odds. But the truth is, they were never really in much danger, thanks to a defensive structure that has been their strongest foundation. In today’s By The Numbers, we pull out some of the numbers behind Morocco’s solid displays.

Even the best football statisticians will admit that defensive performances are notoriously hard to quantify. So let’s start off with a few attacking metrics that could indicate Morocco’s reluctance to be on the front foot.

6.9 – shots taken by Morocco per 90 minutes, the fourth lowest of all 32 participating teams

2.31 – shots on target per 90, the sixth lowest of all participating teams

11.5 – shot creating actions per 90, the 3rd lowest of all 32 participating teams

11.5 – shot creating actions per 90, the lowest of all eight teams remaining

If shots are taken, they are normally taken from distance. We can see two of those long-distance attempts in the game against Spain.

20m – average distance (in metres) of shots taken, the 2nd furthest of all 32 teams participating in the tournament.

Defensive Team Stats

Morocco limited Spain to just one shot in the first 45 minutes, the fewest any team has managed in the first half of a World Cup game against the Spaniards since at least 1966. 

That statistic should have come as a warning, and in the end, Spain only had one shot on target in 120 minutes. The only goal Morocco have conceded in Qatar is an own goal, and it’s an impressive record that goes back to before the tournament. In the eight matches since Regragui took over, the own goal is the only concession they have made (and that includes a penalty shootout).

1 – goals conceded by Morocco at the World Cup, the joint-fewest of all participating teams

1 – goals conceded at the World Cup, the outright fewest of all remaining teams

3 – clean sheets by Morocco at the World Cup (a first for an African nation)

3 – clean sheets by Morocco at the World Cup, the joint-most at Qatar (alongside England)

One may think clean sheets are not a sufficient measure of defensive performance, but even going beyond clean sheets, the numbers make for good reading.

92 – tackles by Morocco, more than any other side participating in the World Cup

56 – tackles in which Morocco won the ball, more than any other side participating

55 – tackles by Morocco in their defensive third, more than any other side participating. No other side had more than 45.

4 – Of the top 12 tackling players at the World Cup, four of them are from Morocco (Hakimi, Mazraoui, Amrabat, Ounahi). No other team has more than one.

Most of the teams remaining in the tournament are known either for their attacking flair (Brazil, France, Portugal) or for controlling matches in the middle (Croatia, England and to a lesser extent Argentina). Morocco will stand out for their outstanding low block, which contributes to a defensive may be enough to take them deeper into the tournament.

54 – blocks by Morocco (shots and passes), more than any other remaining team

44 – times Morocco blocked passes at the tournament, more than any other remaining team

109 clearances by Morocco, more than any other remaining team

42 – interceptions by Morocco, behind only France (44) among all participating teams

134 – tackles and interceptions combined, more than any participating team

Individual Player Stats

On an individual level, Morocco’s defence has also been exemplary. Yassine Bounou’s penalty heroics made him the first African goalkeeper to save a penalty in a FIFA World Cup shootout. Outside of the shootout, he has not made too many saves, thanks in large part to his defence, which we earlier highlighted leads the tournament for metrics like blocks.

2 – shots on target faced by Bounou at the tournament, the second-fewest of all keepers at the tournament (Brazil’s Weverton has 0).

2 – shots on target faced by Bounou at the tournament, the fewest of all keepers with more than one start.

His defence has been very busy, providing him and the team much-needed safety.

17 – number of players tackled by Hakimi, more than any other player at the tournament

11 – number of tackles won by Hakimi, the joint-most of all players (Bellingham also 11).

10 – number of tackles won by Hakimi in his defensive third, the joint-most of all players (Konate & Koulibaly also 10).

With Joao Felix and Bruno Fernandes to come on Saturday, the backline will probably face the sternest test of their lives. But, if anything, the Portuguese should also feel the same.

11 – number of dribblers tackled by Hakimi, more than any other player at the tournament

11 – number of dribblers tackled by Mazraoui, the 2nd most of all players at the tournament

30 – clearances by Romain Saiss, the joint-most at the tournament (alongside Koulibaly)

Yet, what makes the Morocco defensive effort more impressive is that the defence starts from the front. Players like En-Nesyri and Hakim Ziyech are also turning out to be able aggressors, making things difficult when the opposition attempts to build up from the back.

8 – blocks by Hakim Ziyech (Top 10 in the tournament)

8 – number of times Hakim Ziyech has blocked a pass by standing in its path, the joint-most of all players remaining at the tournament (level with France’s Adrien Rabiot).

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